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5 Simple Car Maintenance Things to Do Every Year

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author photo by Andrew Ganz March 2020

Your car takes a lot of abuse, and we don't just mean from dramatic weather, big potholes and grueling commutes. Many vehicle owners believe that they need to do little more than change the oil once a year, but there's a lot more to basic maintenance.

Luckily, these five simple tips aren't costly or time-consuming, and they'll wind up saving you hundreds if not thousands in long-term maintenance costs. Take a sunny Saturday afternoon to work on your vehicle or spread out these little projects over time -- it's your choice. Just make sure you're doing them! Your ride will thank you every day.

Change Your Filters

Your car probably has at least two air filters: one for the engine and one for the cabin. These filters are generally inexpensive, perhaps as little as $10 or $12 each, and they typically last about a year. Moreover, they're easy to change and rarely require more than a couple of screws to access. To learn how to replace them, read your owner's manual or search online for instructions specific to your vehicle.

The air that you -- and your automobile -- breathe is important. You wouldn't skip changing air filters in your furnace, would you? Well, here's a nice reminder to go change that air filter in your car, too.

Rotate Your Tires

Tire technology has come a long way, but it's still crucial to swap your tires around at least once a year -- or more, if you drive more than 10,000 miles. Rotating your tires is easy enough for a home mechanic, or it's generally very inexpensive to have a professional tackle. If you live in a wintry climate, you can use the time when you swap between summer and snow tires as your rotation time, too. Just switch 'em around the next year.

A tire rotation does a lot more than just help your tires wear evenly. It's also a crucial way to determine if your suspension is performing up to par. Uneven tread wear is a clear indication that something underneath is out of sync, and addressing that sooner rather than later can save you lots of money in the long run.

Preserve the Paint

Chances are your vehicle spends a lot of time outdoors, whether at home, at work or in between. Exposure to the elements is a necessary evil as the sun, rain, snow and hail do their best to pummel your car's paint. The good news is that at least once a year -- or more -- you can spend an hour or two giving it a good, protective finish that will help keep it looking new for a long time.

There are two recent innovations that are easy to find online or in stores, and they've taken a lot of the hassle out of automobile cleaning. Using a clay mitt after you've washed your ride will remove grime, sap, and other things things that prevent it from looking its best. Follow up with a ceramic spray shortly thereafter to protect that newly exposed paint, and you'll give your vehicle an almost new glimmer.

Don't Forget Your Headlights!

Today's cars have polycarbonate headlights that save weight and cost less to replace than the old glass units that vehicles once had. However, they tend to turn yellow after sun exposure. Just look around any parking lot and you'll see exactly what we mean.

Fixing this isn't costly or time-consuming, and it will make a massive difference in how effective your headlights are at night. Lens cleaning kits are widely available online, and it'll you take about 20 to 30 minutes per light -- or less if you're good about doing this on an annual basis. As soon as the sun sets and you hit the road, you'll appreciate your newfound clarity.

Check Up on Maintenance

Your car can tell you a lot of things, but it can't tell you what maintenance is due. Your car came with a booklet or section of the owner's manual that tells you what work the automaker recommends and on what intervals. Give it a skim and see what's coming up. If you're a home mechanic, doing so will give you a punch list of things to get through. If not, it can still help you plan your next mechanic visit and budget accordingly.

If you don't have that book, don't despair. Most automakers offer downloadable maintenance guides. Visit the manufacturer's website and look for an owner's resource section, which should provide access to most late-model owner's manuals for free.

Admittedly, some newer vehicles can give you a rundown of what work needs to be performed, but looking through the maintenance guide isn't a bad idea anyway.

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5 Simple Car Maintenance Things to Do Every Year - Autotrader
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